Remember the old ‘rithmetic days? You know, those lists of math facts in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division with some fractions and decimals thrown in once you got to middle school?

Well, those skills are still taught, along with a whole lot of other stuff! Over the last decade, the National Council of Teachers of Math (NCTM) has created standards for every student from kindergarten through twelfth grade across the country.

So, why the change? Well, says NCTM, it’s true that kids need to add, subtract and divide: but your kid also needs to think. After all, they point out, math is an evolving science. This means that as students advance in the subject, they need to understand concepts fully.

In simple terms, math helps build strong minds. It helps kids make sense of a big world by finding shape and pattern. It allows kids to see underlying similarities in the way all things balance and equate. This learning starts as early as kindergarten.

How does this translate to real curriculum? Probably the first place you’ll see a change is in the way standards are presented. Think first grade is just 1+1, for example? Look again! You’ll see separate “strands,” like patterns, algebra, geometry, measurement, statistics, and probability. Teachers are presenting simple concepts in each area, and introducing these building blocks so that they’ll fully make sense in upper grades. In addition, teachers will work to balance skill building, like computing numbers fast, with investigative skills, like discovering abstract patterns with real life applications. For example, sixth graders in Massachusetts will still add and subtract fractions and create decimals; but they’ll also learn to find areas of triangles and parallelograms—measurement skills they’ll later apply in high school algebra and geometry.

NCTM also advocates that every math classroom, from kindergarten through twelfth grade, meet standards for thinking skills. The “Connections” standard calls on students to find interrelationships among mathematics ideas, and connections to other contexts. So, for example, your teacher won’t be satisfied if your child can simply sum a row of decimals; he’ll be asked to apply that knowledge to a real sales slip and probably figure the tax, too! In addition, your child will be invited to connect math to other disciplines. The study of decimals and money, for example, links well with basic economics curriculum in social studies. The “Communication” standard means that students can explain their mathematical thinking to adults and peers. And the “Problem Solving” and “Reasoning and Proof” standards call on kids to be investigators in their own right, tackling problems and developing analytic skills.

For a kindergartener, these standards might be demonstrated with blocks and a number line. By middle school, teachers promise, they're blended to build knowledge and skills that last a lifetime. Want to learn more? Check the website for the National Council of Teachers of Math at www.nctm.org. Also make sure you consult your state standards and keep the lines of communication open with your teacher. Math can be challenging for many kids, but working together adults can also guarantee that it’s rewarding and even fun.